In a surprise move yesterday, The New York Times published a fascinating op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that addressed international law, conflict in Syria, and American exceptionalism.
In an unsurprising move, everybody has a lot to say about it. In case you’re not interested in sifting through the hoards of Internet Bullshit on the topic, we’ve sifted through it for you. Here’s everything you need to know about what some are referring to as Putin’s “act of Obama trolling.”
What Was The Article About?
The op-ed entitled, “A Plea For Caution From Russia” is basically an open letter to the American public from Russia’s notorious President — the gist of it being that the US is overstepping it’s legal authority in pursuing an attack against the Syrian government.
Putin opens the piece with a brief and much-needed history lesson on US-Russian relations, the formation of the United Nations, and instability in the Middle East. Invoking international law, he reminds us that, “force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council.”
Putin then notes that US aggression appears “not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force” which has proven largely ineffective in recent years. He sights several examples of American interventionism (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.) and pleas for all nations to “return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”
But the most poignant part of Putin’s op-ed comes at the very end, when he responds to President Obama’s statement that US policy is what makes America “exceptional.” In his final sentences, Putin writes:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Why Write This To The American Public?
Putin’s entire article is laced with sentiments begging for adherence to international law. Of course, both the US and Russia have defied those laws in the past (read: recently). And his request for mutual cooperation on an international level seems somewhat perplexing, considering – as Max Fisher of the Washington Post notes – “Russia has blocked the United Nations from simply condemning Assad’s attacks on civilians or the use of chemical weapons in Syria…”
While Putin is likely genuine in his quest for a solution to the Syrian crisis, it is clear that President Obama’s comments about American exceptionalism, or “the theory that the United States is ‘qualitatively different’ from other nations,” exceptionally irritated the Russian leader. He uses this op-ed as a platform to highlight American hypocrisy, and to make his case against US intervention in foreign nations.
How Did People React?
Of course, the conflict in Syria is a complex and contentious issue, one that promotes national reflection and international cooperation. Of course, we must provide a way for the global community to band together in response to this crisis. Of course, no one fucks with American exceptionalism.
Newt Gingrich called Putin a dictator and thug, before referencing the foreign president’s unusual leadership style. “This is a guy who, for public relations purposes, wrestles bears. He shoots tigers, stripped to the waste, to prove he’s a tough guy,” he said.
The ever-relevant House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Hopefully, when Pres. #Putin says “we must not forget that God created us equal” he includes gays and lesbians in Russia.”
And while President Obama avoided giving a personal response to the article, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “Unlike Russia, the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world.”
Carney cited a “great irony” in The New York Times publication of the article, “because it reflects the truly exceptional tradition in this country of freedom of expression.”
We’re still waiting on who gets the last laugh.